Concerned residents, officials discuss roadway safety

Township documents resident concerns at safety summit

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MAPLEWOOD, NJ — Maplewood officials and residents came together at The Woodland on Monday, Oct. 24, for a Traffic and Pedestrian Safety Summit led by Mayor Vic DeLuca. The public meeting, attended by approximately 75 residents, was a followup to the June 20 internal summit held at Maplewood Police Headquarters, during which local departments, elected officials and outside consultants discussed traffic and pedestrian safety in Maplewood and what improvements could be made immediately and in the long term.

“The fact of the matter is that we do have a problem here in Maplewood,” DeLuca said at the event. “We want to resolve that problem and we want to work together. Tonight, what we want to do is talk to you about how we think we can address it but we also want to spend time hearing from you about what your concerns are and how you might want to see us address it.”

The mayor noted that, from 2011 to 2015, the top five roads in Maplewood for crashes involving pedestrians were Valley and Prospect streets, and Springfield, Maplewood and Boyden avenues; 20 crashes involving pedestrians occurred on these roads during that time, with 20 others spread out across the rest of Maplewood’s streets.

“The way we are approaching this is sort of like a three-legged stool — you have education, enforcement and engineering and design. All those things have to work together,” DeLuca said. “You have to have good roads that are engineered properly, that are using state-of-the-art traffic calming and traffic safety ideas and measures. Then we need to educate folks — the police will talk to you about what they’re doing — and then of course we need enforcement.”

Township engineer Paul Kittner spoke after DeLuca, outlining some measures the township has taken to address pedestrian safety and traffic calming, then describing some projects to be completed in the future.

One of the solutions Kittner and his department have already implemented throughout Maplewood is curb extensions, which slow traffic by narrowing a section of the roadway and shorten the pedestrian pathway. Speed bumps have also been added throughout Maplewood, with plans to streamline the process for adding them already in the works. Regulatory warning signs, such as stop signs, pedestrian crossing signs and speed limit signs, have also been added, with more to come in the future. Speed limit reductions have also taken place, Kittner said, citing the reduction Valley Street’s speed limit from 35 mph to 25 mph as an example.

According to Kittner, raised intersections have also been considered, as they make pedestrian crossings more visible while also acting as physical barriers similar to speed bumps. Traffic circles, good for areas with low to moderate traffic, are being considered on a case-by-case basis, as are center islands, which create narrow roads, slowing down traffic and reducing front-end collisions while providing aesthetic value. Finally, Kittner discussed striping, noting that more street shoulders, lane markings, turning lanes, crosswalks, school zones and fire zones have been striped or restriped.

Looking to the future, Kittner mentioned an upcoming redesign of the intersection at Maplewood Avenue and Baker Street, new striping and parking in front of the post office, new stop signs on Maplewood Avenue and various improvements to Valley Street and South Pierson Road. Kittner also mentioned potential intersection geometry changes, a resolution for crosswalks with the requisite striping and signage on Wyoming Avenue and proposed striping on both Porter Road and Essex Avenue. Finally, Kittner discussed the federally-funded Clinton School upgrade currently under way. Along with other improvements, it aims to install LED pedestrian crossing signs at major roads and intersections, including Parker and Union avenues.

Kittner told residents they should contact him if they want to request such an improvement.

“Current policy requires that you collect 75 percent of the signatures of the people living on the road in the affected area,” Kittner said. “Once we get that approval, then we actually solicit the police data before even considering any of the traffic calming measures, to evaluate things such as speeding, accidents, etc. Once that is performed, then we look at it on a case-by-case basis. There could be a number of reasons why, say, speeding is occurring. There could be limited sight distance; there could be a wide road. We go into the field and evaluate.”

Numerous audience questions and comments followed, with many residents concerned about traffic and careless driving around the Maplewood Train Station, as people rush to catch trains and compete for parking. But DeLuca countered that there is enough parking for commuters there.

Another audience member spoke of the need for a crossing guard at Valley Street and South Pierson Road, noting that there are no devices on Valley telling cars that it is state law to stop for pedestrians.

“One of the things about those signs that we put in the road is that the road has to be wide enough so that they don’t get whacked,” DeLuca said. “We’ll take a look at that. We’ve ordered more of those signs.”

Another resident expressed concern over a perceived lack of police presence around the train station in the early morning, adding that she believes nothing is more effective than crossing guards. “Is there a possibility that the entire downtown Maplewood Village could be designated as a double traffic violation pedestrian zone? To me, it’s a pedestrian zone, and so any sort of traffic violation within it is egregious,” she said, to which the mayor replied that he would look into it.

Many residents asked about safety issues and proposed safety measures at intersections near where they live, and DeLuca promised that his cross-departmental team would look into each and every request. DeLuca reminded the audience that some of the roads most frequently mentioned are county roads, namely Valley Street and Irvington, Millburn, Wyoming, Chancellor and South Orange avenues. Changes to these roads require additional governmental cooperation and are sometimes subject to additional or different rules and regulations, which can take more time and effort to navigate.

Some audience members requested more radar speed-display signs, as well as township intervention in areas where traffic lights seem twisted and streetlights don’t work. Each request was documented, and the mayor promised that each would be investigated.

After saying that Maplewood residents were lucky to have such a proactive government, Maplewood Public Works Director Calvin Bell described what his department has been doing to improve traffic safety for pedestrians and motorists. Via a sweeping signage survey it conducted, the DPW identified and began addressing three major issues. It found 50 obstructed signs that were difficult to see and has begun to remove and prune the trees blocking these signs, a job he said will be finished by the end of November. Next, 40 regulatory signs and many additional street signs were identified as in need of repair or replacement, a job planned for completion by the end of the first quarter of 2017.

Like Kittner, Bell encouraged residents to reach out directly to him and his department with questions and suggestions. He added the DPW should be approached for issues like faulty or missing signage and streetlights that do not work. DeLuca reminded those assembled that they can also file complaints and requests for service via the township website.

Maplewood Police Chief Robert Cimino then outlined his department’s myriad duties as a whole before addressing traffic and pedestrian safety.

“So far in 2016, we have done 2,638 radar details. Radar details are for speeding offenders. We’ve done about 685 additional details for other violations such as all those you all have spoken about tonight,” Cimino said.

“In regard to the traffic safety summit earlier this year that the mayor talked about,” Cimino continued, “we came together, we looked at what we had been doing and then we wanted to improve on that, obviously. So we looked to some partners, one being William Yarzab from the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority. What he’s doing here is displaying some materials that we were able to get to try to add to the educational component of what we felt was necessary in education, enforcement and engineering and design.”

Going forward, Cimino pledged that additional officers would be on duty specifically for the purpose of traffic enforcement. He stated that additional police would be stationed in and around schools in the area, noting that the police are actively working with the safety committees of both Tuscan and Clinton elementary schools. He pledged a continuation of the department’s efforts to hand out educational materials.

Cimino also stressed the two-part responsibility, according to state law, that motorists must not only stop for pedestrians at crosswalks, but that pedestrians are also required to do their part, and not walk out into oncoming traffic.

“In a 25 mph speed zone, the reasonable distance for a car to stop is about 110 feet away from the pedestrian. So that means if a car is 50 feet away from you and you want to step out into that crosswalk, we’re not going to be able to issue a summons for that, number one,” the chief said, adding that 25 mph is the default speed limit in New Jersey unless signage indicates otherwise. “Number two and even more importantly, that car may not be able to stop for you, and now we may have an injury. So what we want to stress — what I certainly want to stress — is how important it is to be careful as a pedestrian. You can win the argument but still be on the losing end of the law.”

To report frequent speeding in a particular area, Cimino encouraged the public to call 973-762-3400 n a timely manner, including the exact location of the frequent speeding as well as the time frame, saying, “If we are not hearing from you until you’re completely frustrated, then we are not able to help you in a timely fashion.”

One resident asked Cimino what procedure is in place should a crossing guard fail to show up. Cimino explained that the 23 authorized crossing guards now in Maplewood are required to call in when they reach their posts, and an officer is dispatched to a specific location if no call-in is received. He advised that the public may call 973-762-1234 to get a patrol unit assigned to an unmanned location if necessary.

But not all the residents at the meeting were placing the complete burden on the township.

“It’s up to us, too. It’s up to each and every one of us,” one audience member said. “We can pledge to obey the speed limits in Maplewood, we can pledge to stop for pedestrians. If we mobilize ourselves, if we mobilize as a grassroots movement, Maplewood will change.”

Photos by Cynthia Burks